THE BLOG

Of Sports, Culture and Racism

06/22/2015 05:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

This past week, we mourned the heartbreaking tragedy in Charleston -- nine lives cut short by the heinousness of hate, one life providing a physical manifestation for the malice of malevolence. And our country is forced to look at itself in the mirror again.

For many, the mirror will reflect back Shock. Anger. Shame.

This is America. This is our present. It is our past and sadly, perhaps our future.

And we are rightly outraged. But our collective moral indignation will be tempered by the smokescreen that will be our response.

Our response will be to try and convict the killer. Blame him for what he did.

Then we will go on, continuing to hide our inertia, our inaction, our lack of a real and significant reaction: we will not pass new laws. We will still be too timid to say enough with our guns. Enough with our laxness towards accessing them.

I'm neither a politician nor a legislator, so I know it's probably not this simple. Just as race and issues that divide us aren't so simple.

We are a country founded on racism and prejudice: we lorded our superiority over the indigenous Americans who inhabited this land before us so we peripheralized them, slaughtered them, colonized them.

With their blood, we built our home of the brave.

Can you hear our freedom ring?

This week, it has sounded sad. For many decades, it has sounded tragic.

The shooter wanted us to remember his name and remember his act. But here are the names we need to remember:

Cynthia Hurd
Ethel Lee Lance
Susie Johnson
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Tywanza Sanders
Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr.
Rev. Sharonda Singleton
Myra Thompson

In their honor, we need to try and strip ourselves of our prejudices, strip ourselves of a racism that took root back in the days of colonization -- a seed that has been embedded in the fabric of our culture since our culture began.

We have been cultivating this seed for some time: nurturing the racism within, overtly and covertly in different ways, through different forms of expression, violent and otherwise.

Sometimes we hear what sounds like prejudice, like racism, but we let it go. We don't speak up or interject. We don't call other people or ourselves out.

Aboard the downtown C train on my way to work on Thursday, I overhear two people talk about Steph Curry, who this past week, helped lead his Golden State Warriors to the NBA Championship.

I listen in on their conversation, curious to hear if they will speak of his athleticism, his kineticism, his sick shooting skills, his balletic ball-handling and playmaking.

But instead, they speak about his race.

"He's half Black, I think," says one.

"Nah, both his parents are Black," says the other.

As a sports marketer, I know the fact that Curry looks racially ambiguous will make him a marketable superstar.

Why? Because he will be a safe choice for many brands, even though brands will not admit this. He will have cross-demographic appeal, exuding athletic stardom with a just-whitish-black-enough complexion to make him palatable.

A second-generation Filipino, who makes my living in sports, I applaud the titans of my trade, the athletes for whom I cheer, the heroes my own ethnically-ambiguous-looking, biracial son idolizes.

And I know sports too aren't impervious to racism and prejudices. There's racism in all sports -- among athletes, fans, sponsors.

Sports' own history proves this.

In 1936, a man named Jesse Owens dismantled Adolf Hitler's notion that Aryans were superior. Through the grit of his performance and the grace of his wins, Owens became the most transcendent athlete of the Nazi-hosted Summer Games.

But when he came home to a hero's welcome, feted at New York's famed Waldorf-Astoria, the greatest Olympian that year, who embodied American bravery, strength and determination, could only go to the reception meant to celebrate him by riding in a separate elevator car, designated for "colored people."

In 1968, a white Silver medalist in the 200M, Peter Norman of Australia, would be criticized by his country simply because he donned a patch, just as black Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos did, who earned the Gold and Bronze respectively. Norman would be kept off of Australia's 1972 Olympic team even though he reportedly qualified 13 times over.

His sympathy for and solidarity with Smith and Carlos -- a gesture in support of human rights, and as some would see it, the Black Power salute -- didn't go over well with many people.

When Norman died in 2006, both Smith and Carlos served as pallbearers at his funeral.

But racism and prejudice in sports aren't limited to black and white.

One of my favorite sports to watch, ice hockey, was slow to fully embrace Russians playing in the NHL. Even to this day, some old-school hockey insiders believe Russians are hard to coach; they're hard to reach: their culture makes them enigmatic.

And racism in sports isn't limited to North America.

In February of this year, a group of Chelsea FC supporters from the UK, who traveled to Paris to watch a Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain, were videotaped taunting a Black man, attempting to board a Paris Metro train. They were heard and filmed singing, "We're racist, we're racist, and that's the way we like it, we like it."

I don't have an answer. I don't know what to make of why race is so divisive. The Charleston murders came at a time when our nation was being forced to examine the anthropology and psychology of race, grappling still with the news surrounding Rachel Dolezal.

One of my sports idols growing up, who has become one of my favorite writers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, penned an eloquent opinion piece on Dolezal for TIME Magazine. He said:

What we use to determine race is really nothing more than some haphazard physical characteristics, cultural histories, and social conventions that distinguish one group from another. . . As far as Dolezal is concerned, technically, since there is no such thing as race, she's merely selected a cultural preference of which cultural group she most identifies with.

How do you identify yourself?

I guess I hope that someday I can proudly identify with the America I believe in, the one my late grandfather fought for. Imprisoned and tortured during the gruesomeness of the Bataan Death March while fighting for the United States in World War II, Jose Carreon survived and lived to be 93 years old, half of his life spent in New York City.

He bore a name he passed down to me, a stark reminder of my Spanish ancestors' colonization of the Philippines, the country my father, his son, Alberto Cortes Carreon, was born into.

I tell my own son he is a mixture -- a product of his Spanish-Filipino, American-citizen mom and his dual-citizen, British-American dad -- blessed to have been born in Manhattan, a borough which is intrinsically an amalgam of races.

Through generations of cultures and beliefs and histories and colors, my own son is of blood shaken and stirred -- a free-thinking person whom I hope will grow to identify with compassion, with humanity, with what is just, and as cliché as it sounds, with whatever culture or country will cease to see color.